Washingtonian 2020 Top 100 Thoughts – Part Two: Where Tom Sietsema Is the Outlier

Image: Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly.

We continue our breakdown of the 2020 Washingtonian Top 100 Very Best Restaurants.  In our first post, we identified the places all the critics generally agree on.  For this second post, we start looking at places where one critic is an outlier from the others.  First up, The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema.  There are 15 places where he has a lower ranking than the rest of us and there are three places where he is significantly higher (including a late entry from this past week).  These numbers will be fodder for those that think he is a tough grader.  As noted in the previous post, we are primarily using his Fall 2019 Dining Guide as the reference, but dug up old reviews as necessary.

A refresher on the shorthand used below:  “Washingtonian” is the 2020 Top 100 ranking; “Tom” is Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post; 17Degrees is our dining guide – 17Degreesdc.com; Rick is Rick Chessen of Rick Eats DC Top 25.  For the key to our ratings, see the bottom of this post.

With that out of the way, here are the places where Tom Sietsema is an outlier from other critics:

Places Tom Rates Higher than Other Critics:

Rasika – The Washingtonian combined the rankings for Rasika and Rasika West End and put them collectively at #51.  We have them both at Worth Paying for the Cab, and are frankly bigger fans of the West End version.  Rick gives Rasika an Honorable Mention.  Tom gives Rasika 4 stars and Rasika West End 3.5 stars.  Everyone agrees they are good, but Tom is much higher (also as a general point, if he is going to use half star ratings, he needs to use 3.5 more).

Johnny’s Half Shell – Washingtonian #91; Tom: 3.0; 17Degrees: Worth Taking a Walk

  • The high rating is for a combination of reliability, respect, and nostalgic affection for the throwback food and vibe.  We come in a little lower but no less respectful.

Hanumanh – A late addition to this breakdown.  After the Top 100 came out, Tom dropped a 3.0 star review for this place.  The fact it was closed for a good chunk of last year probably took it out of contention for Washingtonian.  What is startling about Tom’s review is that Thip Khao, the flagship for Chef Seng Luangrath in D.C. still only has 2.0 stars from Tom (see below).  It is time to rectify that. But considering there are so few places that Tom is a cheerleader for, we slip this rave in.

Places Tom Rates Lower than Other Critics:

(In Washingtonian Top 100 rankings order)

Bresca – Washingtonian #7; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab

  • Tom holds out with his tepid rating.  Washingtonian, Michelin (1 star) along with us are all much higher on it.

Cane – Washingtonian: #10; Tom: 2.0; 17Degrees: Unrated

  • We have yet to try this place, but based on Chef Prime’s prior work at Spark we are pretty sure we will be higher than Tom, maybe as enthusiastic as Washingtonian.

Kith/Kin – Washingtonian: #15; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab.

  • Tom started at what we thought was a ridiculous 1.5, but quickly revised upward.  Based on a recent visit we continue to have a high opinion of this place.  Like with Chloe and Centrolina we’ll wait for everyone to catch up.

Gravitas – Washingtonian #17; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Splurge Worthy.

  • Gravitas also got a Michelin star this year.  It is surprising Tom has not revisited to rethink this one, but he started at 2.0, so there is some progress.  This would be a good place to use one of those 3.5s.

Isakaya Seki – Washingtonian #18; Tom: 2.5 in 2015, not in current guide; 17Degrees: Worth Paying the Cab; Rick: Honorable Mention.

  • Washingtonian is going to blow a cherished secret for many with its rating, but thankfully Tom fights to keeps it under the radar.

All Purpose – Washingtonian #22; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab

  • Tom is all over the place on pizza joints.  See, e.g., Etto (3.0) v. 2 Amy’s (2.0).

Estadio – Washingtonian #23; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab

  • Washingtonian continues to love Estadio.  We think it is excellent.  Tom can’t quite get there.

2 Amy’s – Washingtonian #28; Tom: 2.0: 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab

  • Tom’s low-balling here is shocking, but as noted above he is all over the place on pizza.  He also has not revisited this rating for a while.

Queen’s English – Washingtonian #31; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab

  • Tom has a history of starting low and this is probably an example.

Unconventional Diner – Washingtonian #47; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab; Rick #11.

  • In some ways the upscale comfort food should be in Tom’s wheelhouse, but he sticks to a rating a step below others.

Chiko – Washingtonian #50; Tom: 2.5; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab; Rick #13

  • Tom likes it, but just not as much as the rest of us.

San Lorenzo – Washingtonian #56; Tom: 2.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab

  • There was a fair share of snark dropped in Tom’s otherwise positive first review and he has stuck at 2.0.  Washingtonian is moving up in the meantime to match us.

Thip Khao – Washingtonian #61; Tom: 2.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab; Rick: Honorable Mention

  • Tom just gushed over Thip Khao’s sibling Hamumanh (see above), but has yet to go back and update this rating.

Reverie – Washingtonian #64; Tom: 2.0; 17Degrees: Worth Paying for Cab

 Timber Pizza Co. – Washingtonian #96; Tom: 2.0; 17Degrees: Worth Taking a Walk

  • We told you about the pizza joint issue.

In our next post we will look at where the Washingtonian is the outlier.

Don’t forget, we are doing this whole deep dive thing just to get you to pay attention to our site.  We continue to believe it is the 3rd Best Dining Guide for D.C. and getting better all the time.  We have over 250 recommended restaurants.  It is updated every week.  You can sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and/or rating!  In both MAP or LIST format.

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Here is the key to our ratings:

Splurge Worthy: An exceptional and probably very expensive experience that is worth the splurge.
Worth Paying for Cab: An excellent restaurant doing well across the board. Someplace so good I would pay money to get there.
Worth Taking a Walk: A very good restaurant worth time and effort to walk a few blocks out of the way to get there.
Worth Trying Out: A noteworthy restaurant. Someplace that you should consider trying, even if the recommendation comes with caveats.